James Bulger lies, Denise Fergus and sense on child crime from the Centre for Social Justice
KNOW that between 2005 and 2010, 346 children aged 10 and 11 were found guilty of sex crimes. The Sun produces this news under photos of James Bulger and his two killers, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, and the headline:
Children in rape Torture & Arson
You might have heard the news back in 2010, when the Daily Telegraph reported:
A total of 346 youngsters were either convicted in a court or handed a reprimand or formal warning, according to the Youth Justice Board.
Why has the Sun reproduced this news and passed it off as something new? The figures were produced by the Youth Justice Board in response to the arrests of two brothers in Edlington Yorkshire in April 2009. They were jailed for five years for subjecting their victims to torture and sexual humiliation.
So. Why is this news now? And why is it illustrated with pictures of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the boys who murdered two-year-old James Bulger? Well, the Sun’s editor Dominic Mohan told the Leveson Inquiry that the biggest story of 2011 was James Bulger. So. The murdered toddler is once more presented to satisfy the readers’ needs. And where James Bulger is mentioned, his mother Denise Fergus is sure to feature.
In “My View”, the mother of a murdered child says:
THIS report is a nonsense. If anything, the age of criminal responsibility should be lowered, as kids are growing up faster than ever. By ten, any normal child is aware of right and wrong. The two who killed my James knew exactly what they were doing.
I hope David Cameron throws this report in the bin. He should get out on the streets where kids as young as eight go around in gangs terrorising people. Raising the age of responsibility would lead to them running riot.
Police would be arresting children who commit crimes just to hand them over to social workers.They’d have them back on the streets with a pat on the head. It would be a recipe for disaster.
The report she alludes to has been created by the Centre for Social Justice, which says children are no criminally responsible until the age of 12.
The Sun says:
It would mean Robert Thompson and Jon Venables would have escaped justice for torturing and murdering toddler James Bulger in 1993 as they were aged ten. But the Centre for Social Justice’s suggestion has already won the backing of 33 experts on kids’ legal issues, including Children’s Commissioner Dr Maggie Atkinson.
It is based on new research that says the brains of children under 13 are too immature to gauge the consequences of their actions.
The report says of the minimum age of criminal responsibility:
New research demonstrates that children below 13-14 years of age are neurologically immature and struggle to gauge the consequences of their actions. This is particularly true where they have been abused and maltreated in their childhood.
They are more likely than older children to indulge in impulsive and risk-taking behaviour. Although children can distinguish between right and wrong from an early age, they have a limited capacity to distinguish between criminal and non-criminal conduct, particularly if they have grown up in dysfunctional households as many young offenders have.
Ten and eleven-year-olds are also less able to defend themselves in court than older children. Decisions about how to plead, what to tell lawyers and how to respond to cross-examination present serious difficulties for them. They are more likely to make false confessions.
Inconsistencies abound. For instance, a child is not allowed to buy a pet until the age of 12 and cannot consent to any form of sexual activity until the age of 13. The school leaving age is 16 and the minimum age for jury service is 18.
England and Wales is also out of line with many other countries. South Africa (effectively 14), parts of the USA (12), Netherlands (12), the Scandinavian countries (15), Italy (14) and Germany (14) all have higher MACRs than England and Wales. Scotland and the Republic of Ireland have effectively raised their limits to 12 in recent years…
The CSJ recommendation is part of a far wider report, Rules of Engagement, on the youth justice system, which calls for a drastic cut in the 5,000 children aged 10-17 given custodial sentences every year and recommends reforms in which child welfare services rather than youth justice teams and courts take the lead in preventing juvenile crime.
The report accepts that in the wake of the case of James Bulger, who was murdered by two 10-year-old boys in 1993, it would be “politically naïve” to attempt to ignore public opinion on the MACR.
And crucially the report notes:
Accordingly, the report proposes a compromise measure to apply immediately: that the MACR be raised to 12 years for all but the most grave offences (murder, attempted murder, rape, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault). This would mean that in the Bulger case, the perpetrators would still have been prosecuted for murder.
The report says: “Raising the MACR would achieve important changes. Young children would not be tarred with the stigmatising “offender” label, which, the evidence shows, can exacerbate delinquency, and would more likely have their victim status and welfare needs addressed, which the evidence shows are currently often neglected.
The Guardian notes:
Among the cases highlighted is that of one child who was imprisoned in a police cell after throwing a bowl of cereal at his care worker before jumping out of a window and climbing back inside.
The report concludes that the imprisonment of young people between the ages of 10 and 17 in England and Wales is too high and should be restricted to the “critical few” guilty of serious crimes and posing a serious public threat.
Instead, too many youngsters are appearing before youth courts for trivial reasons with some effectively prohibited from certain types of future employment following minor incidents such as “playground fights”. The biggest concern, however, is the way the youth justice system is increasingly expected to sweep up cases that other departments, such as social services, are failing to address.
So. The report specifically rules out allowing the likes of Venables and Thompson to evade justice. But if the Sun can tap into a familiar debate, why should it bother with the facts..?
According to the think-tank’s report, there are some 5,000 children detained, with each place costing between £69,600 and £193,000. Three out of four child criminals commit further offences within a year of being released.
Meanwhile, in the progressive Sun…